RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazilian health authorities started mass immunization of the Mare neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday to control COVID-19 in a poor community while studying the effectiveness of vaccines and the prevalence of worrying variants.
The Mare complex in the bay consists of more than a dozen so-called favelas and is home to around 130,000 people. The study is the first in Brazil to target a low-income area. The Brazilian researchers who lead the effort know of no other place in the world that has specifically focused on slums.
Rio is currently providing the first vaccine doses to 34-year-olds. Therefore, the Brazilian government’s Fiocruz Institute aims to vaccinate more than 30,000 Mare residents ages 18 to 33 and increase the vaccination rate of the adult population to close to 100%, according to Dr. Fernando Bozza, the study coordinator. The first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be given in 30 locations across Mare over a period of three days.
“This is important for Mare and for Brazil as a whole. Here in Rio de Janeiro, more than 1.5 million people live in favelas. The research is usually done in hospitals and health care facilities, ”said Dr. Valcler Rangel, Fiocruz’s institutional relations advisor, told reporters.
Before a station opened its doors in the early morning, 100 people were queuing outside.
Those who wish can also take part in Fiocruz’s study, for which the institute wants to recruit 2,000 families.
Upon admission, Jennifer Cardoso Nunes, 27, signed a informed consent form and answered survey questions about her medical history, recent experiences with anxiety, whether she works from home, and how many people she lives together. She shares her home with her grandmother and five aunts and uncles, who all get blood tests after the 3-month and 6-month marks of the study.
“I think it is important that we do just that research so that they can monitor this pandemic,” Cardoso said.
All positive COVID-19 tests in Mare in the coming months will be genomically sequenced, which is currently rarely done in Brazil. This will make it possible to observe worrying variants, such as the highly contagious Delta strain that circulates in Rio and other Brazilian cities after devastating the majority of unvaccinated populations in other countries.
Assessing the effectiveness of the vaccine against new variants like Delta is one of the main focuses of the study, Bozza said.
“The intensification of vaccination is necessary to curb the spread of the new variant,” he added.
Less than half of Brazilians have had their first vaccination and less than a fifth are fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health.
Brenda Ferreira da Silva, a law student who received her first vaccination, criticized Brazil’s “vaccine sommeliers” – a nickname for those who oppose AstraZeneca or Sinovac, which make up the vast majority of vaccines available, and seek Pfizer or Jannsen vaccinations instead.
“If we keep trying to get an X or Y vaccine, it will delay collective and herd immunity when everyone is vaccinated. I find it very sad and people have to stop, ”said da Silva, 20. Based on Rio’s vaccination schedule, she would not have received her first vaccination until August 16.
Fiocruz has already carried out a mass vaccination program with AstraZeneca on the island of Paqueta in the Guanabara Bay of Rio and in Botucatu, a city in the state of Sao Paulo. The Sao Paulo State Butantane Institute conducted a mass vaccination study of the Sinovac vaccine in another inland city, Serrana.
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